Horse-meat found in 4.66% of tested beef products

EU Commissioner for Health and Consumers Tonio Borg.
Tonio Borg, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumers.

Tests by authorities on beef products across Europe found that 4.66 per cent were positive for horse meat, the European Commission has revealed.

The drug phenylbutazone, a common anti-inflammatory drug used in horses which is banned from the human food chain, was detected in 0.51 per cent of horses carcasses checked in another series of tests.

The commission said there were no safety issues, but that tougher penalties would apply in future over fraudulent labelling.

The co-ordinated EU-wide testing for horsemeat DNA and phenylbutazone was launched as the horse-meat scandal unfolded across Europe. It was co-financed by the commission.

The number of tests that were carried out to detect the extent of the mislabelling varied between 10 to 150 samples, depending on the size of the EU country and on consumption habits.

The criteria for the phenylbutazone sampling carried out were one sample for every 50 tonnes of horse meat, with a minimum of 5 tests. Some member states exceeded the number of tests recommended by the commission.

In all, 7259 tests were carried out by the competent authorities in the 27 EU countries, of which 4144 tested for the presence of horsemeat DNA and 3115 tested for the presence of phenylbutazone.

Of those tests, 193 revealed positive traces of horsemeat DNA (4.66%) and 16 showed positive traces of phenylbutazone (0.51%).

In addition, member states reported another 7951 tests for the presence of horsemeat DNA performed by food business operators. Of these, 110 contained horse-meat DNA (1.38%).

The positive samples found in relation to horsemeat DNA combined with the very low levels of bute detected represents a small part of the overall production in EU, the commission said.

The results correspond with the joint statement published by the European Food Safety Authority and the European Medicines Agency on April 15 which concluded that the risks associated to bute were of “low concern for consumers due to the low likelihood of exposure and the overall low likelihood of toxic effects and that, on a given day, the probability of a consumer being both susceptible to developing aplastic anaemia and being exposed to phenylbutazone was estimated to range approximately from 2 in a trillion to 1 in 100 million”.

The results have been exchanged through the EU’s Rapid Alert for Food and Feed, an on-line portal that plays a key role in ensuring a high level of food safety for EU citizens since it allows European food safety authorities to swiftly inform each other of serious risks found in relation to food or feed.

“Today’s findings have confirmed that this is a matter of food fraud and not of food safety,” the Commissioner for Health and Consumers in the EU, Tonio Borg, said.

“Restoring the trust and confidence of European consumers and trading partners in our food chain following this fraudulent labelling scandal is now of vital importance for the European economy given that the food sector is the largest single economic sector in the EU.

“In the coming months, the commission will propose to strengthen the controls along the food chain in line with lessons learned.”

The tests carried out cost about €400 each.

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